Race is on!

We had a very quiet night at anchor in Pancake and were woken around 6:15 am, by Marquise and Koonya, departing the anchorage. We slowly got ourselves in gear, and left about an hour later, following their sails on the horizon. The southeaster gradually strengthened up from 8 knots, and we ended up spanking along on a 12-16 knot close reach, periodically hitting 10 knots boat speed, with Otto doing sterling work at the back.

We could see Koonya on the AIS, but not Marquise, so Koonya were our target race boat. We pushed hard to catch them, and reckon that the hour head start we gave them was the perfect handicap, as we caught up with them about 2 miles from the entry channel to the lagoon. Steve finally turned his AIS on, and was a little ahead of Koonya, but we caught and passed them about a mile further on. Pete was secretly very happy! I got some great photos as we passed Marquise and will have to send them on to Ruth.

As we approached the lagoon, we could see a big ketch inside, and guessed correctly that it was Wakanui, having successfully made the trip from Bundy. The fast trip across meant we arrived at about an hour before low water, but there was not as much tide running out as the last time we had entered. As Marquise had not been to Musgrave before, we led the way in for them, and we anchored very close to the spot we were in last week, with Marquise just to port and Koonya behind and to starboard. The lagoon was a little windy, but Pete and I had a quick swim, then the Wakanuis came across to say hi before heading off for a snorkel. They had come in yesterday, had a great sail over and already spent yesterday snorkelling and walking on the cay. They had also seen a turtle hatching, which astonished us as it was very late or very early for that.

Rowan said they were heading in to the beach for sunset drinks and suggested we join them, which we thought a great idea. After lunch, we went for a snorkel, and tried an area on the outside of the beach reef. It was fantastic with stunning coral and plenty of fish, but the visibility wasn’t as good as last week, and the water felt a lot cooler. We managed about half an hour then returned to the boat, and Pete changed the fan belt on the engine, while I dozed on deck in the sun.

We had let Koonya and Marquise know about drinks on the beach and they were keen to do that, so we all headed in around 4 pm to make the most of the beautiful evening. One of the first things to greet us was a flying fish which was chased by a shark into the beach! We realised that the fish wasn’t a flying fish at all, just a large fish desperate to escape the shark! The Wakanuis arrived a little later, and we all watched the gorgeous sunset, debating about the green flash, which Janet swore she had seen at this very Island, seven years before! Another couple, Mike and Carolyn, joined the conversation, Mike reckoning he had photographed the green flash as we watched, but we all thought it was too yellow!

The Wakanuis went for a walk to hunt for turtles as dusk fell, and the rest of us slowly pottered back to our dinghies, to prepare dinner. The moon was waxing gibbous, so we had plenty of light for finding the channel away from the beach, and locating our boats. It was flat calm by now, so Pete and I decided to get the Goon Bag on deck and the engine stowed while dinner was cooking. We also did the bulk of the preparation for an early departure in the morning. This turned out to be an excellent plan, because by 1 am, the wind had come up and it was exceedingly uncomfortable, not assisted by the anchor watch going off, with a nightmare regularity. The anchor was holding fine, despite some horrible noises from the bow, but the anchor watch we use kept on losing contact with satellites, so the alarm would sound, then stop very quickly. Of course it had fully woken us up, with just a short blast, as in those conditions, you have to be able to react quickly when you are anchored in a coral lagoon, with limited area to manoeuvre in and in pitch dark.

We were woken first at 1:30 am and checked everything, as well as moved halyards away from the mast. We tried to get back to sleep, but to no avail, and then the alarm went off again. We were both wide awake by now, so we did some extra clearing away to prepare for sea in the morning. Pete lay back in bed eventually, and I lay down in the saloon, and we both started to doze off when the alarm went yet again. I leapt up, but saw that all was well in relation to other boats and the light on the island, though it was blowing hard. I did finally get off to sleep, having very odd dreams, and we woke again as dawn broke, and slowly got round to making coffee. We drank our coffee watching as Wakanui headed out of the lagoon, and then decided that we needed to get going ourselves. We decided to try a new technique to ensure we had no issues with the anchor. I started by opening up the anchor well bulk head for quick access, then took the helm, with Pete on the bow, manning the anchor remote.

I motored slowly forward to counteract the wind, as Pete removed the snubber and pulled up to 30 meters. Engine into neutral, stop anchor hoist and I ran down to knock out the piled up anchor chain, to prevent a blockage. Run back on deck, engine into forward for the next 10 meters of chain, then repeat process. Despite a 25 knot headwind, we got the anchor up quickly and stowed with no issues. Once stowed, Pete followed our track in reverse to exit the lagoon safely, while I sealed up the anchor well, then took my perch on the bow just in case I needed to spot bommies. We made a safe exit, and looked forward to 50 miles of short sharp waves and winds as near as dammit on the nose, to Gladstone.

Our friends on Koonya and Marquise left about an hour behind us and we talked briefly to them on the vhf to let them know that the wind eased down to around 15 knots about two hours out from the island. They confirmed they were heading back to Pancake Creek – lucky things!

The closer we got to land, the more the waves and wind eased, and we went from flying just the number 5 on the inner forestay, to flying the full jib, then under power only, as the wind went into the south west and dropped below 10 knots. We were now heading directly into it, but needed to get to Gladstone for Pete’s flight tomorrow. Despite there being a chill in the air, the sky was cloudless and blue, with very clear air. We could see the ships lined up awaiting pilots at Gladstone for a good 20 miles out, and we looked forward to visiting Gladstone for the first time. We were going to miss all the new friends we had made at Bundaberg, but hoped to stay in touch and meet up with them at later stages of our respective trips.


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